Manila, Aug. 9 – Despite downbeat reactions from some sectors, the recent meeting between President Benigno Aquino III and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) chair Al Haj Murad Ibrahim in Tokyo has drawn a lot of positive feedback from various fronts. (PeaceTech and OPAPP is conducting an Online Forum about this at www.peacetech.net/chat/ Aug. 11, 5pm and Aug 14, 8pm)
President Aquino and Murad met last Thursday to discuss possible approaches in moving the peace process forward. The successful meeting, which government panel chair Marvic Leonen referred to as a demonstration of the President’s “very hands-on approach and personal commitment to attaining a just and lasting peace,” earned the confidence of many, including government critics.
Mary Ann Arnado, secretary general of Mindanao Peoples Caucus stated that President Aquino’s move was a grand gesture of sincerity and political will. “The meeting speaks more than a thousand speeches. What he failed to mention in his state of the nation address, he has definitely expressed a hundredfold by talking to Murad. The gesture is worth more than a thousand words.”
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone also lauded the President’s gesture as a “political masterstroke” and “definitely the most concrete and sincere confidence-building move of the Aquino administration.”
Senator Francis Pangilinan, on the other hand, called it “an out-of-the-box solution” to the decades-old armed conflict in the south, while Sen. Loren Legarda referred to it as a “major milestone” in the peace process.
Sidney Jones, regional analyst for International Crisis Group likewise saw the meeting as a “major step forward simply because it establishes a personal relationship between the two principals.”
Several were hopeful that the meeting will lead to the forging of a peace agreement between the government and the MILF soon.
“The meeting would greatly boost chances of an understanding with the MILF and help make peace in Mindanao, especially in conflict areas,” said Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong.
“I am of the conviction that such negotiations will lead to the recognition of the just aspirations of our Moro brothers, and the sharing of Mindanao’s bounty under a regime of peace, unity and brotherhood,” stated Vice President Jejomar Binay.
“If it will lead to real and lasting peace, I fully support P-Noy,” House Majority Leader Neptali Gonzales II shared.
Former North Cotabato governor Emmanuel Piñol lauded President Aquino. “This is a President whose attitude is that of a Big Brother who would like to bring conflicting parties to an honest tête-à-tête, much like squabbling kids who are brought together and asked: Hey, what’s your problem?”
Piñol added also said that the President’s decision to personally talk to Murad manifests his “very informal attitude” in solving problems. “It is just like telling the MILF chairman: “Brod, halika. Mag-usap nga tayo ng masinsinan. Ano ba talaga ang gusto nyo?’ (Brod, come here. Let’s talk sincerely. What is it really that you want?)”
Former peace adviser Jesus Dureza congratulated the government and the MILF in “taking the unconventional route just so an early settlement can be mutually forged.”
From the leftist front, Bayan Muna Party-list Rep. Teddy Casiño also welcomed the meeting.
Cotabato City Vice Mayor Muslimin Sema, chair of a Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) faction, also welcomed the Aquino-Murad meeting positively. “The MNLF pray that whatever understanding or agreement they may reach could be implemented to the letter and spirit.”
President Aquino had the full support of his cabinet secretaries during the Tokyo meeting. Joining him were Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos-Deles, Defense Sec. Voltaire Gazmin, National Security Adviser Cesar Garcia, Budget and Management Sec. Florencio Abad, Finance Sec. Cesar Purisima, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Government of the Philippines (GPH) peace panel chair Marvic Leonen.
In a radio interview, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, who was one of the major movers of the Tokyo meeting, said that it was the President’s own idea and a proof of the sincerity of the government in its peace efforts. He also said that the peace process is something “personal” to President Aquino.
The government and the MILF peace panels are scheduled to meet for formal exploratory talks on August 22-24 in Kuala Lumpur.